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Baby Shaker App Fiasco Underscores Need for Change from Apple

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Only a little while ago, we published a story about Apple’s (s aapl) inconsistent review process for the App Store. In that case, the question was one of imagery, and focused on some icons that Apple seemed to be of two minds about. Well, inconsistency is one thing, but their latest gaffe represents an entirely different kind of failing. In a move that garnered worldwide attention, Apple yesterday approved and then later removed an app called “Baby Shaker.”

If you aren’t already aware of the details of the app, it basically allowed users to simulate shaking a baby to death on their iPhone or iPod touch. On screen, you saw a pencil-drawn animation of a baby that would progressively move less and less as you shook your phone, until big red X’s would appear over its eyes and it would stop moving altogether, at which point the baby is presumably dead. Even just describing what the app does is horrific, let alone actually playing it.

It’s surprising, then, that such an app would sneak by Apple’s generally very conservative App Store review process. The very same process which, until recently, wouldn’t allow fart noises or overtly sexually suggestive material within their hallowed walls. Infanticide, though? No problem.

The quick removal of the app seems to suggest that its approval in the first place was a mistake or an oversight, and that in general, Apple is definitely not in favor of depicting this sort of thing on their platform. Nonetheless, it was there, it was live, and at least some people downloaded it before its removal. Advocacy and awareness groups are up in arms, and they’re looking for an explanation from Apple for why this could be allowed to happen.

I’d like an explanation, too. How about we celebrate the billionth app downloaded (imagine if it actually was Baby Shaker?) with some transparency regarding your review process? Because as of right now, considering this screw-up, the Instapaper/Pocket God issue, and the Tweetie misunderstanding regarding foul language, it seems like there are 10 guys at the office who draw straws to see who’s in charge of policy for the day.

On a slow news day like yesterday, something like Baby Shaker can quickly obscure any other message you might be trying to get across, like how much money you’re raking in, for instance. Apple would be wise to put a cap on this sort of thing before it starts interfering with bigger, more important messages, like new product announcements, for instance. Establish a clear and straightforward review process, with redundancies and checks and balances, and let developers know what the pipleline looks like. Do it now, before it taints people’s anticipation of your 3.0 release.

20 Responses to “Baby Shaker App Fiasco Underscores Need for Change from Apple”

  1. There are video games, movies, television shows, and books you can play, watch, or read that involve shooting people in the head, bombing civilians, rape, theft, necromancy, cursing, and graphic sex, among other things. Should all these other games, movies, and books be banned? Perhaps we should gather them all up into a big bonfire and burn them all!

    It’s a slippery slope. Who decides what’s acceptable? You? Me? I can guarantee we probably have very different ideas about that. Maybe I despise your religion, or your views on sexuality.

    To me this game is in poor taste but is worth a few chuckles in certain circles. Strangely, it also educates people as to what will happen if you do shake a baby: it dies. Many babies are shaken to death by people who don’t know how fragile they are.

    Frankly this iron-fisted censorship is one of a great many reasons to jailbreak an Apple device. Here are some of the things you can do after jailbreaking that are a lot more valuable than a stupid baby shaker app:
    1. tether your iphone (pdanet)
    2. record movies (cycorder)
    3. take clearer pictures (clearcam)
    4. run apps in the background (backgrounder)
    5. get a free open-source turn-by-turn gps (xgps)
    6. system-wide cut and paste (clippy)
    7. have a flashlight app that illuminates at full strength

    I could go on but you get the idea. And jailbreaking is very easy – just google it. I did not want to jailbreak my iPhone 3g, I HAD to do it. Imagine buying a car and the car company tries to tell you what you can and cannot do to the engine. Ridiculous!

  2. Chris

    I can’t believe how many ppl are going so crazy over a game I have been playing all the killing and blood gore games that have been out ppl say they will make kids think like that and then end killing that is not true at all a video game does not influance any thing that at all it is just a selling game and there was a study done a couple years ago about violent games and kid’s and the kid’s that played violent games where better in school more open minded and had more personality then kid’s that did not play grand theft auto halo and other games of that sort it is just a game ppl need to worry about how messed up the country is and how we are about to go into a great depression atleast ppl are buying these baby shaker games what about the apps that poor beer or the ones u can shoot guns that spot out shells smoke and gun fire from the berral are they gona influance drinking and getting guns NO. There just somethin to sell to show ur friends if it offends u then u offand me for being so closed minded on one app and not the rest that do the samething intertain people

  3. Henk: Yes, what you say is true of bookstores. And, yes, Apple is choosing to operate a business with some limitations of what they offer customers. I’m not saying decisions like this are right, wise, good, etc. – in fact, I reserve my judgment on such aspects. All I’m saying is that it is up to Apple how they stock their digital shelves. It is up to consumers, then, to decide if any or all of these application rejections are a deal-breaker.

    Is it perhaps unfortunate that customers may not be able to purchase something specific from Apple or any other reseller in the mobile app market? Maybe, but I don’t think this is really that unusual a situation. What seems to distinguish this is that we’re dealing with the digital realm, and that is a market where consumers have come to embrace choice as a leading priority. This prioritization often leads to a sense of entitlement, and the unfortunate result is often negatively charged emotions. But
    consumer choice is not about the privilege to choose anything, it’s about the privilege to choose from what is available on a given day.

    From a business perspective, however, this is how markets typically operate. Businesses choose what they will sell, and sometimes they also change their approach based on perceived opportunity, customer feedback being just one source. Other times businesses choose not to respond to customer feedback and new businesses emerge to fill untapped markets.

    Simple Examples: I can’t buy compressed yeast because no one deems it worthy of selling where I live. I’ve spoken to resellers, and they tell me they can’t get it in stock or that they choose not to because there isn’t sufficient consumer demand. My immediate choices, then, are to go without yeast or to adjust my needs to work with dry yeast. Likewise I can’t buy a new car with Volvo safety in the $15-20,000 price range. On this one I’ve decided to say nothing because I’m confident there is no chance of getting a response which will affect change.

    In this case with Apple, though, you are correct that as of now there aren’t really any alternatives for consumers. But it’s also early. Really early. In the US, the idea of a centralized source of mobile platform applications is 9 months old. And only one company has really taken this approach so far. Considering this market is in its infancy and there is a lack of resellers, it would seem that customers are doing relatively well since the average user on the iPhone platform has downloaded 27 applications. And soon, customers will likely have multiple other choices which are reasonably well developed (Pre, WinMo, Blackberry, Android).

    Apple may be doing well in such a short time (regardless of the one issue at hand), but to say that consumers have no choice is a little unfair when the market is still nascent. As the market grows, should Apple deny approval to many applications a broad segment of consumers seek, then that is an opportunity for developers on other platforms, and therein will be the choice for consumers. People have responded to this decision by Apple as if they the company is violating the Sherman Antitrust Act or breaking an explicit covenant they made which said they would approve all applications. Neither of these are true. Apple has made their choice: They will serve as gatekeeper, and they have certain standards which they deem unacceptable (albeit, not publicly delineated). Now consumers can make their choice: Decide if what Apple offers is of sufficient value.

  4. It’s a game. I can’t believe anyone has the time to get upset about something as pointless and unimportant as this. Get some hobbies or something.

  5. It’s just a game. It’s not a big deal. It’s not even a small deal.

    Anyone who’s “up in arm’s” about useless crap like this needs to get a hobby.

  6. downcharlestonblvd

    @ Gazoobee

    So is the issue with you just gore?
    Violence and death are fine as long as blood/guts are not sprayed?
    As long as the graphics or sketches are “Delightful” and the murder is “cute”?

    Last time I checked, large amounts of mainstream PC and X-Box games don’t involve the murder of a child or children. Big Difference. If you had children you would probably understand a bit more.

    Is it really a shock to you that people are upset over this app?
    Are you not aware that most people would tolerate a serial killer then a baby killer?
    There are TV shows based off of serial killers, and the books discussing serial killers are many. You’d think little to nothing of someone watching these shows or reading these books yet the mood would be different if they were about baby killers.

    Are you not aware that way more people are deeply affected more when they hear a child has died then they are of a full grown adult?


    “This app doesn’t train anyone to shake babies and has no gratuitous violence or actual baby killing in it at all. It’s a silly joke. A piece of black humour and people are waaay over-reacting about it IMO.”

    I didn’t know you needed “Training” to shake babies. “Shake – Babies/Baby” is pretty self explanitory. You acknowledged the baby dies above in your post and lets see… how do they die? from shaking thus there is actual baby killing. This may not register to you because there is no blood or guts. I enjoy Black Humor but this is tasteless and devoid of anything funny or entertaining. I know people have a tendency to overact but if you cant see what is appalling then perhaps you are the one who is desensitised like the people who are “trained to get used to insane levels of violence and gore”

    Again, I know you’d have a different take if you had a child or worked with children.
    As a person who has lost someone to gun violence I don’t think of it when I see violent video games nor does it conjour any emotions, but I know for a parent who lost their child to a nanny, baby sitter, shaking their baby, this disgusting app makes them relive the whole ordeal.

  7. This is not an original idea of mine, I read it somewhere else but I no longer no where that was: The App Store is more like an independent bookstore than a public library. As such, Apple is choosing which content to sell rather than attempting to satisfy everyone based on an idea that all content should be treated equally.

    While the company would seem to have room to streamline and clarify the submission and approval processes, I don’t think they are doing anything illegitimate as a business with decisions like this. Whether or not such moves are good or bad – or however one wants to frame it – I think it is within Apple’s purview. Ultimately, then, it is our choice as consumers to decide if the decisions by Apple are too prohibitive.

  8. Gazoobee

    @bodyprojectliverpool: I side with the guy that says it’s just a game.

    Personally, I find large amounts of mainstream PC and X-Box gaming to be horrific, depraved overly-violent garbage but those that like such crap have a point when they say “it’s just a game.” Those games in particular actually train the user to get used to insane levels of violence and gore, this game has a few delightful pencil sketches of some cute babies. When the babies “die” they get two red x’s overlaid on the cute sketch.

    If you believe that all that X-Box/Halo, lets-pretend-we-are-serial-killers crap is okay, you are a hypocrite to be against the baby shaker app. I would guess that you would be against both yourself, but most of the people crying all the crocodile tears over the baby-shaker app this morning are totally fine with that junk.

    This app doesn’t train anyone to shake babies and has no gratuitous violence or actual baby killing in it at all. It’s a silly joke. A piece of black humour and people are waaay over-reacting about it IMO.

  9. SeanBlader

    Well it does bring a whole new level to the App Store advertising from Apple. Even if that level is killing babies and going to prison, turns out there’s an app for that too.

  10. Amazing – to the person who posted its a game on a phone – no its a simulation of a baby being shaken to death and that is not a game by any stretch of the imagination. Apple have acted now but the developer is a disgrace and this is shameful.

  11. What a non-story. A goofy, non-PC app sneaks through a review process designed to weed out “fun” and is released into the wild, endangering … what? Nothing. It’s a game, on a phone. Get over it.

  12. If Apple didn’t have an approval process this would just be the case of a developer with bad taste. If they’re going to let stuff like this through while denying other apps on some ridiculous grounds (Tweetie, for example), the approval process has been rendered useless.

    To echo what Wil Shipley said a few months back, ditch the approval process and let the market decide:

  13. More and more the App store “approval process” is just becoming a really ugly and awful part of Apple. I’m really really disappointed in Apple here.

    The App store is a great thing, but everything about the approval process just royally stinks. I keep hoping they totally revamp the system, but I keep just seeing more and more disappointment instead.